Target Fixation

Target Fixation: Where are you looking?

According to Wikipedia, target fixation is...

an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object that their awareness of hazards or obstacles diminishes. The phenomenon is most commonly associated with scenarios in which the observer is in control of a high-speed vehicle or other mode of transportation. In such cases, the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they will not take necessary action to avoid it, thus colliding with it.

The phenomenon is common amongst racing drivers, fighter pilots, motorcyclists, mountain bikers, and surfers, amongst others. When individuals target fixate, they are prone to steer in the direction of their gaze, which is often the ultimate cause of a collision.

Performance driving schools know about this brain phenomenon. They believe that it can be overcome with training. They teach drivers to look where you want the car to go despite the object (a crash, the wall, another driver, a squirrel, etc.) that comes into view as a distraction. Stay focused and look where you want to go because the body naturally follows the gaze of the eyes. They teach, "Your hands follow your eyes," and "If you look at it, you will hit it."

Dirt Race Buggy

Choosing the Right Target

In life, this is a smart analogy that helps you discover what you're giving your attention to. This is pertinent when you are trying to achieve a goal or an outcome and you just can't seem to get there. Why is it not coming to fruition? Why does it seem that the exact opposite is happening?

Think about what it is you are actually focusing on. Are you focused on the outcome you desire or on the absence of it? Are you giving your attention to the success of your endeavor or the failure of it?

Practice Play

What can you do to direct your attention toward what you want (the race track) and away from what you don't want (the wall)? Try these steps and see if it helps you avoid crashing into what you don't want:

  1. Identify what it is that you want. Be precise and descriptive.
  2. When you think about what you want, distinguish the outcome that is getting most of your attention: the outcome or the fact that the outcome has not occurred yet.
  3. Based on what you distinguished, decide if this outcome is what you want: the outcome's success or the outcome's failure.
  4. If you chose the outcome's success and completion, keep doing what you're doing. If you realized that you're giving your attention to the failure of the outcome and absence of it, you need to consciously begin shifting your attention to the outcome's success. Write, draw, list, mind map or visualize your way into allowing the outcome into your experience. Trust that it will happen, that if it is what you really want, it is already on your pathway. Just get out of your own way, shift your focus, and before you know it you'll be living the outcome you want.

Choose the race track, not the wall!


Terry Pappy is CEO of Better3, creator of Compass Playbook and author of award-winning books on creativity. What she says about Compass: "It's a fun resource that helps people achieve their dreams using creativity—simply by telling a new story." Terry uses humor and straight-talk to inspire breakthroughs in creativity for audiences around the globe.